21 June 2008

Baciu's Memories of Brasov: Birth, Baptism, Spitz Palota

From Praful de pe Tobă: Memorii 1918-1946, by Stefan Baciu (Editura Mele, 1980), pp. 4-5 (my translation):
I was born in Brasov on 29 October 1918, in the last days in which the Austro-Hungarian monarchy gave up its ghost, in other words, at the end of the era that Emil Cioran called “the Time of Franz Joseph.” My birthday was the day Czechoslovakia was declared independent, so the Republic of Czechoslovakia and I are of the same age. Father had just returned from the front and Mother was still living in her parents’ house, located in the center of the city, maybe 500 meters from the Council House. The house in which my grandparents were living—and I know it still exists in 1980—was an old building, with a stairway I remember as dark, at the corner of two streets, Michael Weiss and Prundul Florilor (Rosenanger), but their rooms were upstairs, with windows overlooking both streets. I heard that Michael Weiss was changed—horribile dictu—into Red Army. Of Prundul Florilor I know nothing, but I would not object, nor would I be all that surprised, if some day, even a day certain, this street might bear my name.

I was baptized with the name Ştefan Aurel in the orthodox church in the “Fortress” (Council Plaza) by Father Nicolae Furnică on 19 January 1919, as evidenced in Vol. III, page 75, no. 4 of the Baptismal Registry, my godparents being Dr. Nicolae Popovici and wife, professor at Andrei Şaguna High School, later at the Theological Academy of Arad. (A detail: their daughter Lucia, with whom I used to play as a child, and whom I have never seen since, married Nicolae Aloman, who published a few fragments of very interesting prose in the first series of Biletelor de Papagal [Of the Parrot Tickets?], which fact was later communicated to me by Lucia Aloman in a few letters during the 1930s.)

Soon after my birth, my parents moved into rooms on a street that begins right at the Council Plaza, reaching as far as the Promenade, strada Vămii [Customs Street]. The house was the second or third on the left as you headed toward the Promenade. You couldn’t see it from the street, as it was a large building at the back of a paved courtyard, reached by way of a long corridor or gang. It was named, solemnly, Spitz Palace (Spitz Palota) after the name of the owner (Spitz-bácsi), a gentleman who seemed to me very old (how old could he have been?), with white mustaches and a bowler hat [gambetă]. The apartments opened onto long balconies on the right, perhaps three stories high, overlooking the courtyard. The building also had an exit at the back, which gave onto the Graft Valley, through a gloomy corridor, along which were aligned some cellars that seemed immense to me, in which they stored wood for the winter, which used to be cut with a machine that made a monotonous sound by Mr. Stroescu, from the Gypsy quarter.

From Spitz Palace, I remember the concierge Borescu, typographer in the workshop of the Hungarian newspaper Brassoi Lapok, which had a boy of about my age, Puiu, with whom I used to play in the courtyard. Puiu used to suffer massive beatings from time to time with a belt that Mr. Borescu used to pull from his waist, yelling as loud as his mouth could bear while his father would administer the beating: “Father, daddy, mother, mommy, grandma, dear mama!” Then one day he fell sick, I think from tubercular meningitis. I see from our balcony the black umbrella under which they used to lay Puiu in the sun, stretched on blankets, until one day the umbrella no longer appeared, and I found that Puiu had died. He was the first death of my childhood.

On the same floor as us, in rooms overlooking Customs Street, used to live Wilhelm and Emilie Schreiber, a pair of sad and withdrawn millionaires (I think their only child had died while still a baby), the co-owners of the factory Scherg. “Onkel Willi” used to come and go from the factory by carriage, which seemed to me fabulous, and “Tante Emilie” would sometimes play on the piano melodies as melancholic as she was, looking after the flowers in the pots on the terrace, which in their absence I used to water with an immense watering can, receiving as recompense a book with a dedication written in impeccable gothic calligraphy, which I can still see. At Easter, I used to go “watering” (darf ich spritzen?), receiving from her the first chocolate eggs and mandarin oranges, which had been brought the day before, in large packages, from the Hessheimer grocery.
NOTE: Baciu's adjective describing the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, chezarocrăiască, gave me a lot of trouble. I couldn't find it anywhere until I tried its masculine singular form, which is more commonly rendered as cezaro-crăiesc, equivalent to German kaiserlich-königlich, lit. 'imperial-royal', respectively describing the Austrian and Hungarian thrones. As an educated Transylvanian, Baciu's Romanian is sometimes Germanified. For instance, he says that in high school his friends called themselves ştudenţi, with a German sh, and not studenţi as in standard Romanian. That may be why he rendered cezar 'caesar, emperor' as chezar 'Kaiser'. The Romanian translation of königlich in this construction comes from crai, a Slavic term for 'prince' that is nowadays especially common in fairy tales (basme), as is its feminine equivalent crăiasă 'princess'.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I always liked that term kaiserlich-königlich (or kaiser- und königlich); it's so redolent of the good old Habsburg days. (Yes, I know the system was rotten to the core, but compared to what came after...)